Feature Article - January 2018
Find a printable version here

Water Wise

Aquatic Safety Strategies Help Prevent Drowning

By Dave Ramont

Other Water Safety Trends

The NSPF and American Red Cross are members of Water Safety USA, a consortium of organizations, each with a strong record for providing drowning prevention and water safety programs. Some of the other 14 members include the USA Swimming Foundation, Boy Scouts of America, National Park Service, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission and the YMCA.

"The organizations agree together annually on a unified water safety message campaign," Lachocki said. "To maximize effectiveness, each of the member organizations disseminates the designated message to their constituency and reports back to the group on reach and impact."

In 2016 the joint message was "Water Safety: It's Learning to Swim and So Much More." The 2017 message was "Designate a Water Watcher: Supervision Could Save a Life."

The science-based and free Model Aquatic Health Code (MAHC) was created to ensure the safety of aquatic venues, and Lachocki believes that facilities should strive to comply with the code. "The MAHC has gained such support that many health departments will even accept variances to local requirements that comply with the MAHC."

Kellogg agrees that important work is being done with codes and requirements. "The MAHC was born out of a desperate need for an industry best practice standard, and while it doesn't mandate anything, it's becoming a go-to reference for agencies and states looking to strengthen their codes."

As far as current trends, Lachocki explained that the industry is collectively gaining momentum to treat the source of that noxious smell often found at indoor pools, which is typically the byproduct created from the reaction of chlorine with contaminants in urine like urea and uric acid. "350 and growing organizations are committed to the Prevent Pee in the Pool campaign," he said, with special signage with tips on how to prevent this problem available to help facilities communicate this critical message to staff and patrons.

Kellogg said that a lot of attention is being placed on water chemistry and air quality, trying to ensure a physically healthy environment. "Secondary sanitation, ozone, regenerative filters, alternative disinfection—lots of different research to make sure our water stays clean and safe," she said.

Tom Griffiths mentioned a device they observed at the World Conference on Drowning Prevention, a lightweight handheld sonar unit for the open water which should make search and recovery significantly safer. Rachel Griffiths added that there are also more promising technologies being developed to supplement supervision, and there appears to be more awareness and education about non-fatal drownings. "We also have to give praise to the many agencies that recently increased their education and warnings about Shallow Water Blackout," she added.

Harvey brought up a term that is being embraced by the drowning prevention and water safety communities: water competency—the concept that there are minimum skills that everybody should have. She pointed out that this knowledge shifts based on where you are, that water competency in a pool is different from the same in an ocean environment, and the public needs to be educated that those skills aren't necessarily transferrable. "So I think you'll start hearing a lot more about water competency and how it applies to different environments, whether we're talking about swimming or boating or whatever," she said.

Kellogg feels that water safety is improving, but there are still an unacceptable number of drowning deaths every year. Many of these are children, with minority children often being statistically overrepresented. She'd like to see swimming become a mandatory part of physical education curriculums at every elementary school, partnering with local facilities or agencies to get kids to aquatic safety classes. "We did an excellent job teaching people to use seatbelts and car seats; life jackets and swim classes should be equally important. Parks and recreation agencies need to be an advocate for aquatic safety, even if they don't have the facilities to offer it."